Taliban for Peace?

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Supreme Leader Signals Willingness To Talk Peace

By Stephen Grey in Kandahar

AFGHANISTAN/

Taliban fighters pose in front of a burning German military vehicle in Isaa Khail village of Char Dara district of the northern Kunduz Province April 3, 2010. Three German soldiers were killed and five others seriously injured in fighting in Kunduz, the German Army Command in Potsdam said on Friday.

REUTERS/Wahdat

April 18, 2010 “The Times” — The supreme leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar, has indicated that he and his followers may be willing to hold peace talks with western politicians.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, two of the movement’s senior Islamic scholars have relayed a message from the Quetta shura, the Taliban’s ruling council, that Mullah Omar no longer aims to rule Afghanistan. They said he was prepared to engage in “sincere and honest” talks.

A senior US military source said the remarks reflected a growing belief that a “breakthrough” was possible. “There is evidence from many intelligence sources [that] the Taliban are ready for some kind of peace process,” the source said.

At a meeting held at night deep inside Taliban-controlled territory, the Taliban leaders told this newspaper that their military campaign had only three objectives: the return of sharia (Islamic law), the expulsion of foreigners and the restoration of security.

“[Mullah Omar] is no longer interested in being involved in politics or government,” said Mullah “Abdul Rashid”, the elder of the two commanders, who used a pseudonym to protect his identity.

“All the mujaheddin seek is to expel the foreigners, these invaders, from our country and then to repair the country’s constitution. We are not interested in running the country as long as these things are achieved.”

The interview was conducted by a reputable Afghan journalist employed by The Sunday Times with two members of the shura that directs Taliban activity across the whole of southern Afghanistan, including Helmand and Kandahar provinces. It was arranged through a well established contact with the Taliban’s supreme leadership.

Looking back on five years in government until they were ousted after the attacks in America on September 11, 2001, the Taliban leaders said their movement had become too closely involved in politics.

Abdul Rashid said: “We didn’t have the capability to govern the country and we were surprised by how things went. We lacked people with either experience or technical expertise in government.

“Now all we’re doing is driving the invader out. We will leave politics to civil society and return to our madrasahs [religious schools].”

The Taliban’s position emerged as an American official said colleagues in Washington were discussing whether President Barack Obama could reverse a long-standing US policy and permit direct American talks with the Taliban.

If the Taliban’s military aims no longer included a takeover of the Afghan government, this would represent “a major and important shift”, the US official said.

The Taliban objectives specified on their website had already shifted, Nato officials said, from the overthrow of the “puppet government” to the more moderate goal of establishing a government wanted by the Afghan people.

In the interview, the two leaders insisted that reports of contact between the Taliban and the Kabul government were a “fraud” and stemmed from claims made by “charlatans”. Up to now, no officially sanctioned talks have taken place, they said.

They laid down no preconditions for substantive negotiations, saying simply that the Taliban were ready for “honest dialogue”. Another Taliban source with close links to the Quetta shura said the movement was willing to talk directly to “credible” western politicians, including Americans, but not to intelligence agencies such as the CIA.

This source said that although the Taliban’s unwavering objective remained the withdrawal of all foreign troops, their preconditions for talks might now be limited to guarantees of security for their delegates and a Nato ceasefire.

According to a Nato intelligence source, Taliban representatives have established direct contact with several ministers in President Hamid Karzai’s government. But they refuse to have any direct contact with Karzai, whom they regard as an “illegitimate puppet”.

During an interview that lasted for several hours and was interrupted only by the coming and going of messengers on motorbikes, our reporter heard nothing from the Taliban leaders to suggest that the movement was weary of war, as some western analysts have claimed.

Instead, he was told that the Taliban believe they are winning and are able to negotiate from a position of strength. Asked about a forthcoming Nato offensive in the Kandahar region, a local Taliban commander who sat alongside the two scholars boasted: “We’re ready for this. We’re going to break the Americans’ teeth.”

The Taliban leaders said that lessons had been learnt from Nato’s last big offensive in the Marjah area of Helmand province earlier this year. When Nato gave advance notice of the operation, the Taliban were lured into sending too many fighters to the area, some of whom died.

The leaders said that in Kandahar a plan to counter Nato had already been prepared.

“There will be no surprise there,” said Abdul Rashid. “We have our people inside all positions in the city, in the government and the security forces.”

He added that America already had enough problems “to haunt her” and fighting in Kandahar would only turn more people against it.

“People don’t trust the foreigners because they are backing the warlords. People are fed up with crime and brutality and that’s a big problem for the Americans. We’re well positioned, with supporters everywhere.”

As they prepare for the traditional summer fighting season, the Taliban leaders are placing as much emphasis as Nato on winning the hearts and minds of the population.

Abdul Rashid said there had been Taliban commanders who had financed their campaigns by taking bribes to give safe passage to Nato supply convoys or from drug smugglers. But the Taliban’s leadership had ordered a halt to this.

“What we do is not for a worldly cause — it is for the sake of Allah. More important than the fighting for us now is the process of purification. We are getting rid of all the rotten apples,” he said.

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US Anger at Election Claims Prompt Karzai Call

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Agencies

2010-04-07T124306Z_01_BTRE63417OR00_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-AFGHANISTAN-KARZAI

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a shura, or meeting, in Kandahar city April 4, 2010.

REUTERS/Golnar Motevalli

The United States has rejected President Hamid Karzai’s anti-foreigner outburst as “troubling” and “preposterous”, prompting a hurried effort by the Afghan leader to make amends, Agence France-Presse reported.

Officials said Karzai did not specifically apologise during a telephone conversation with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday, but expressed “surprise” at the furor over his claim that foreigners orchestrated election fraud.

The row came just a few days after President Barack Obama made an unannounced trip to Kabul to press Karzai on tackling corruption and to demand progress on good governance, as Washington’s troop surge strategy unfolds against the Taliban.

The new confrontation will only raise doubts about the fragile relationship between the Obama administration and Karzai, whom Washington is forced to consider a partner despite distaste for his political record.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs called Karzai’s comments “troubling” and “cause for real and genuine concern”. Gibbs noted the huge US military and political resources – and sacrifices – committed to Afghanistan.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley, meanwhile, described Karzai’s intervention as “preposterous”. US Ambassador to Kabul Karl Eikenberry also met with Karzai in person to seek clarification on his comments on Thursday.

The Afghan leader then initiated the call to Clinton and expressed “surprise that his comments had created what he called a stir,” a US official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“Generally we were happy with the call and we’re moving on,” the official added.

Crowley called the conversation a “constructive” one as Washington and Kabul seek to defuse tense relations.

“President Karzai reaffirmed his commitment to the partnership between our two countries, and expressed his appreciation for the contributions and sacrifices of the international community,” he said, adding that Karzai and Clinton “pledged to continue working together in a spirit of partnership”. But the Obama administration scrapped a planned Karzai visit to Washington last month after he gave himself full control over the electoral commission. In another snub to the United States, he then invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit Afghanistan.

The Afghan leader drew fierce global condemnation for his speech on Thursday.

“There was fraud in presidential and provincial council elections – no doubt that there was a very widespread fraud, very widespread,” Karzai told Afghan election commission workers in Kabul.

“But Afghans did not do this fraud. The foreigners did this fraud,” he added, accusing other countries of interfering in his country’s domestic affairs.

He also claimed that such moves risked the 126,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan being seen as “invaders” – terminology used by the Taliban – and the nine-year insurgency as “a national resistance”. Afghan analysts suggested Karzai had lost control after being criticised by Obama and angered by the Afghan parliament, and noted the statements could signal a shift in foreign policy.

Afghan soldiers killed

German troops based in north Afghanistan mistakenly killed at least five Afghan soldiers, NATO forces said on Saturday, hours after the Germans lost three of their own soldiers in a gunfight with insurgents, Reuters reported.

A statement from NATO said that on Friday evening a unit of German soldiers was approached by two unmarked civilian vehicles which failed to stop when troops signalled them “using a variety of methods” in the northern province of Kunduz.

“The force eventually fired on the vehicles killing at least five Afghan soldiers … Initial reports indicate that the two civilian cars were part of an Afghan national army patrol en route to Kunduz,” NATO-led forces said in a statement.

A NATO spokesman later said it was unclear if the vehicles were civilian and the alliance was investigating the matter.

Hours before the incident, three German soldiers were killed in a gunfight with insurgents. The unit of German troops that killed the Afghan soldiers were on their way to the scene of that gunfight, when they came across the Afghan soldiers, NATO said.

Earlier, the governor of Kunduz province, Mohammad Omar, said he had been to a hospital in the province and saw the bodies of six Afghan soldiers who had been killed in the incident, which happened near Char Dara district.

Opinion polls show most Germans oppose Berlin’s involvement in the Afghan war.

Opposition spiked after a German-ordered US air strike in a village in Kunduz in September killed scores of people, at least 30 of them civilians according to the Afghan government, the deadliest incident involving German troops since World War II.

Germany is the third-largest NATO contributor to the war with some 4,300 troops in Afghanistan, most in northern Kunduz where Taliban attacks and strength have increased over the past year. Germany’s parliament has agreed to send a further 850 soldiers.

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